Information about location plays a crucial role in our lives. Our position in the landscape directly impacts what we have access to and how we experience the world. Whether we live in an urban or rural area or a town prone to earthquakes or wildfires, and public transportation impact our daily lives. All these factors and more can be studied through the collaboration between GIS and spatial data.
What is spatial data? It is the collection of data that refers to a specific geographic area. On its own, spatial data about our world is deeply complex. There are myriad types and quantities of information to parse through to decide what is useful for us as humans. This post explores how we make sense of spatial data using GIS to improve safety, quality of life, and more!
Quick Review: What is GIS?
GIS stands for Geographic Information System, and it’s a tool to collect robust amounts of data about a specific area of land using software to analyze and make sense of that data. GIS is a relatively new concept, created in the mid-1900s to explain maps and track data. However, humans have considered the impacts of spatial information for even longer. One of the earliest uses for spatial data was epidemiological, when cartographers and physicians used maps to track the spread of diseases like Cholera. Today, GIS technology has progressed tremendously and offers comprehensive information about the land around us.
What Geospatial Data Can Reveal About The Land Around Us
As mentioned, the real world is a complex array of information. GIS helps us break down that information into layers, depending on what information we seek. For instance, we use GIS to break down the overwhelming amount of data in a whole city to focus on one specific neighborhood. We can create maps that use precise point locations, areas or networks of lines to highlight things like streets or topographical features.
Once we collect data about a specific area, such as the neighborhood example, we can then translate that data into something useful. Most often, we do one or all of the following:
- Analyze the data
- Create visual representations of the data
- Interpret the data to make conclusions and predictions
Together, this process helps us create useful GIS maps and tools. Some commonly used examples are GIS maps for flood plains, traffic patterns, and indoor building maps. GIS is exceptionally useful at taking the complex and making it palatable. Think of some of the maps you’ve relied on when driving that take the overwhelmingly complicated nature of urban city streets, and provide you with clear and concise directions for where to drive.
What is Spatial Data Science?
Methods for visualizing and analyzing the relationships within geographic spaces are essential. This includes topographical, geologic and man-made locations.
Even when you are physically in a certain location, such as a farm for example, you are not always able to obtain the full picture, such as how that farm fits into the larger ecosystem surrounding it. Only through GIS and spatial data science can one understand the full composition of the farm’s land and its surroundings.
We use Spatial Data to represent the features of a real-life landscape graphically. The process summarized can look something like this:
Step 1. Use Spatial Data to create a visual representation of an area
Step 2. Record additional information about the area, known as attributes
Step 3. Once the attributes are inputted into an easily understood grid or table, we can then track the shape, size and orientation of the attributes.
We cannot understand how the larger ecosystem works together until all these components are tracked together through GIS.
How Spatial Data and GIS Complement One Another
There are 4 main components involved in GIS:
- A computer
- A GIS Software program
- A collection of Spatial Data on a specific geographic area
- A human interpreting the information
When these components collaborate, we can develop extremely useful GIS maps. We alluded before to the power of GIS and Spatial Data to analyze land areas that are prone to flooding. Let’s dive in further to how this technology could be helpful.
Let’s say there is a neighborhood with 50 houses and a creek running through the middle. After heavy rainstorms, the creek has been known to flood. We can use geospatial data to analyze how many houses are at consistent risk of flooding. We can even take the analysis further based on the GIS data of each home’s worth to calculate the potential financial cost of those houses being situated in a flood plain. This can positively inform builders, insurance companies, potential buyers of homes in that neighborhood, and more.
The Major Benefits of Spatial Analysis in GIS
- It can inform conservation efforts
- It can measure the impacts of human activities in certain areas
- It can measure the spread of contagious diseases such as COVID-19
- We can analyze the health impacts of automobile pollution in urban areas and nearby houses
- We use spatial analyses to observe the health and impact of natural plant and animal species
- It is an excellent tool for communicating environmental messages in a visual format
GIS is extremely helpful because it simplifies the many levels of space into palatable layers. Those layers help us to create visual representations of the land and therefore explore patterns, trends and relationships that are not apparent otherwise. When combined with spatial analysis tools, we can observe, interpret and respond to ecological data happening all around us. This is promising for the health and safety of humans, animals and our natural world!
If you are interested in learning more about how GIS can help your business, contact the Maptelligent team today.